One night I was intercepted outside the grocery store by a sort of scruffy-looking guy. "Hey, man," he said, gesturing across the street, "I wanna head over there for a bottle, but I'm fifty cents short. Can you help a guy out? I don't wanna lie and be like 'I'm hungry!' cause I already ate." I don't drink and I knew that enabling someone else to potentially be an alcoholic is not a good thing, but I was pleased with his honesty and took pity on his financial plight and figured if it was that bad then I couldn't blame him for wanting to evade his problems that way for a little while. I didn't have fifty cents, so I gave him a dollar. And then I debated whether I had done a good deed or a terrible one.
One night as I was about to go to bed Brooke posted an open request for someone to come to her house and catch and kill a mouse for her, offering cookies in return. I would do almost anything for her, but I'm not comfortable killing anything defenseless and harmless (here I use a broad definition of "harm" that includes being really annoying; there was a bird living outside my window that I would have loved to break in half, though I had to settle for throwing rocks) if it's more intelligent than an insect. Once I was helping remove flowers from the temple grounds and a mouse ran out and the gardener chased it down and crushed its throat with his rake and I became so uncomfortable that I had to leave shortly. If she could have demonstrated that it had rabies, I would have come and killed it. If someone else wanted to go and kill it, then so be it. But I couldn't. So I ignored her post. I felt bad as I imagined her and her sister and their other roommate cowering, trembling, too afraid to go to sleep. I wasn't sure if I had done the right thing.
One day at work scanning used books, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" came into my hands and got accepted. I had read it years ago and found it very convincing, but that was before I understood how people can manufacture convincing bullspit and still cite all their sources. I have of course accepted many books that promote opinions or agendas contrary to mine without a second thought, including a couple that attacked my own religion. To do otherwise would make a mockery of free speech even if it weren't violating the rules and depriving the company of money. But this one, written to spread fear and hate of the already most feared and hated religion in the United States, crosses a moral line. I hesitated and seriously considered tossing it to be recycled - but I didn't because that would be violating the rules depriving the company of money. I regretted that and stewed over it. My only consolation was that most people buy political books to reaffirm the opinions they already hold, rather than risk being exposed to new ones, so whoever purchases it would probably fear and hate Islam with or without the support of its "facts".
In this situation, at least, I now know what I should have done. I should have set the book aside and later gone to discuss it with the owner of the company, whom I know to be a very good and generous man. He surely would have understood.
If you had told me three years ago that I would someday be in a meeting with a roomful of progressives that I was united with in a common cause, I would have scoffed. But there I was last week. Of course, if I had announced that I do not stand with Planned Parenthood, I probably wouldn't have made it out alive. But we were primarily there because of the GOP's astonishing contempt for the environment, and in full agreement about that. We dissent from the mindset that the health of our planet doesn't justify any infringement on "personal liberty" or that it's trumped (no pun intended) in importance by the economy - you know, that man-made illusion that the survival of life as we know it doesn't depend on. Now lawmakers are gearing up to destroy tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that millions of birds from over 230 species use as habitat while migrating, so that Utah can continue to waste more water than any other state in the nation. Because that's the Christian thing to do, I guess?
Anyway, that was the primary reason for the event, but the principles discussed had much broader applications. It was led by psychologist Dr. Dave Christian who talked about how to do more successful activism with "motivational interviewing" tactics. The gist of it was that humans are not rational creatures and will only cling to their opinions more forcefully when presented with evidence against them, and that persuading them to help you is much easier if you understand their values and can demonstrate how what you're advocating for will serve their values as well as yours. You need to understand their point of view and not see them as the enemy or they'll sense that and put their defenses up. Done properly, this is sincere and not manipulating people. So basically the gist of it is stuff that should be obvious but isn't. People would rather argue and insult each other because they didn't evolve by having nuanced and respectful discussions.
Caveman: All right, let's get to the root of this. What are you hoping to achieve?
Sabre-Toothed Tiger: I just want to survive and reproduce.
Caveman: Hey, me too! Who would have guessed we have so much in common? It's a wonder we don't get along better.
Sabre-Toothed Tiger: Indeed. Let's cut this meeting short and go out for lunch to celebrate.
To make the world a better place, we should all put our natural instincts aside and strive to understand each other and work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to accomplish goals that serve all of us. And we all know that isn't going to happen ever.
Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us
Sometimes I use this song if I want to feel happy for no reason. I hope it works for someone else too. Just don't sing it out loud unless you want to tempt fate.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.